Copyright Organiser By Dr. Arvind S. Godbole
The claim of many Sikh politicians and authors that Sikhism is a separate religion, calls for an objective and a nationwide debate. In this debate, we can keep aside, the semantic of the terms dharma and ‘religion’ and use the term ‘religion’, as it is commonly understood at present.
To qualify as a ‘separate religion’ it must have a theology and philosophy distinct from other religions. The revered, Shri Guru Granth Sahib (Granth, G.pp. no) is the most important source of Sikh theology and philosophy. According to the Granth, the supreme Being is sans beginning (G.1351), primordial being (G.129), complete or integral (G.705) eternally true (G.1,119), sans human birth (G.1,99), transcendent as well as immanent (g.79, 102 etc), antarjami (G.13,43,454 etc.) nirvairu or sans enemity (G.1,99), fearless (G.199), fearless (G.1,464 etc.), supremely resplendent ( G.13,277 etc.), supreme bliss (G.814), untainted or niranjana (G.119,597,1353) and both sarguna and nirguna (G.128,862).
These basic theological concepts are of the Sanatana Hindu religion. Shankara in his Vivekachudamani (225) calls Parabrahma as nitya or eternal. Bhagvadgita (9.18) regards the supreme as the primordial origin of the universe. The Chandogya Upanishad (8.3.8) holds that the truth is His name. Bhagvadgita, (7.25), declares that the ignorant think that the Supreme Being has a birth. The immanence of the Supreme being, a cardinal tenet of the Sanatana Hindu religion and the Sikhism differentiates then clearly from the Semitic religions, who do not subscribe to that doctrine. Several hymns of the Granth, bring out very eloquently, the contrary attributes of God e.g. ‘You are the teacher, you are the disciple’)G.69); ‘You are water, you are the fish’ (G.85). This is a corollary of the doctrine of total immanence of God and is an echo of the Taittiriya Upanishad. Antarjami (antaryamin), an attribute of God, is drown from the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. The epithet, nirvairu of the Parabrahma is a corollary of the doctrine of immanence. The Amritbindupanishad (6) holds that God is impartial. This doctrine differs from the Old Testament concept of ‘chosen people’ or the Quranic concept of the ‘favoured believers’. That the Supreme is a bliss is a Vedantic concept, endorsed both by The Brahmasutra and the Tejabindupanishad. That the supreme is untainted is the doctrine of the Upanishads, later adopted by the Nath samparadaya. Guru Nanak has sung the glory of Om (G.929-930) as the creator of the Vedas, etc. Needless to say the Om is the Vedic mantra as well as a pan Hindu symbol. Expressions like, ‘Uradh mula jasu sakha’ (Guru Nanak, g.503), ‘Neta neta kathanti beda’ (Guru Arjuna, g.1359), ‘Brahamgiani sada niralepa jaise jalamahi kamal alepa’ (Guru Arjuna, G. 272) are but echoes of the Vedas and the Bhagvadgita.
The philosophical concepts of the Grantha like indestructibility of soul, the cycle of birth, death and rebirth, evil impulses viz lust, anger, etc., maya, brahamgiani, cardinal importance of guru, the importance of recitation and meditation of Hari or Ramanama, realization of soham for the liberation, jeevana mukti, the merger of the individual soul with the supreme soul, during life time or the mukti, the two categories of people viz the manamukha seeking ephemeral pleasures and the gurumukha or the god oriented people, are Sanatana Hindu Concepts.
The Philosophical nomenclature of the Granth viz Parabrahma, Ghata, Pinda, Atama, Moksha, Mukti, jeevan Mukti, Maya, Mithya, Sarguna and Nirguna, Bharamanda, Jogu (yoga), Raja Jogu (rajayoga), Isaru (Ishvara) is same as that of the Sanatana Hindu religion. The term like four yugas, four padaratha goals of life-viz the purushartha, tribhuvana, amrita, lakha chourasiha 84 lakh species, which appear so often in the Grantha denote its Sanatana Hindu ethos.
Neither Guru Nanak nor any of the other Sikh Gurus declares in their hymns that he is founding a religion. Guru Amardas declares that ‘He gave the smritis, the Shastras (Vedas) and the reckoning of punya and papa’ (G.949). “You are the Shastras, you are the Vedas”, sings Guru Arjun (G.1150). Not only the Smritis and the Shastras but Puranas also were created by His order, declares Guru Arjun (g.261). A distinct civil code and a distinct mythology are hallmarks of a separate religion e.g. Islam, Old Testament as the mythology of the Semitic religions. The Sikhs share the same mythology, as elaborated by the Ramayana, Mahabharata, Puranas, Shrimad Bhagvata, with the Sanatani Hindus. The Sikhs never had and could not have a separate civil code, given the reverence of the Sikh Gurus for the Smritis and the absence of any declarations, in the Granth on marriage, divorce and inheritance. The recent practice of many Sikh authors to present ten Sikh Gurus as ten prophets does not have a scriptural basis. Sikh Gurus never claimed to be prophets or having received any massages from God. With great humility, they said that they were but the dust of the feet of saints.
The rejection by the Sikh Gurus of the Vedic rituals and their insistence on inner realization of God is consistent with the Upanishads. Although the hymns of the Granth repeatedly describe god as formless, a nirguna, they do describe, in many places, the physical attributes of God. Wherever they do so, the description is invariably that of Vishnu or one of His incarnations (G.567, 1082, 1402). The argument that because Sikhism is monotheistic, it is akin to Islam and or a different religion is unfounded. The monotheism of Sikhism is different from that of Islam. While revering the One Parabrahma, Sikhism like the Sanatana Hindu religion, does not reject other Gods. The expression like ‘Suri Nara’ (G.775), devate kodi tetise’ (G.1079), ‘tritia brahma bisanu mahesa’ (G.839), Yama, Yamaduta, Yama danda appear in the Granth. The Farid Bani in the Granth does not support the notion that there is a Sufi element in Sikhism. The Farid Bani deals with general themes like inevitability of old age and death. It does not bring out any basic philosophical doctrines. Unlike the Bhagat Bani, which appears uninterrupted, in the Granth, the Farid Bani is interspersed with the Guru’s verses, indicating that the Gurus desired to comment on it. The Sufi nomenclature is conspicuous by its absence in the Granth. The Guru’s criticism of mechanical relation of the Vedas without understanding their meaning and their insistence on the inner God realization is consistent with Shankara’s Vivekachudamani V. The rejection of idol worship by the Sikh gurus has been mistakenly interpreted as rejection of the Sanatana Hindu religion. ‘He is not in any symbol’ declares the Brahma sutra ((4.1-4). Idol worship is not an essential component of the Sanatana Hindu religion. The claim that Sikhism rejects the avatara concept of the Sanatana Hindu religion is also baseless. ‘Sunnahu upaje dasa avatara ‘declares Guru Nanak (G.1038). ‘Assuming the form of a child, you killed Kamsa, Keshi and Kuvalyapida’, says Guru Ramadas (G.606). In one hymn, Guru Arjun enumerates various avatara (G.1082). Story of Prahlad (Narasimha avatara) appears in many places in the Granth, Guru Gobind Singh wrote Ramavatara, Krishnavatara and and Chobis avatara. Guru Gobind Singh says in his autobiographical ‘Bachitra Natak’ that the Bedis (Guru Nanak’s clan) and the Sodhis, his own clan originated, respectively, from Kusha and Lava, the sons of Shri Rama. It should be remembered that Guru Gobind Singh did not make the initiation into the Khalsa, mandatory for all Sikhs. Bhai Nandlal, an important member of the court of the tenth Guru and an author of a famous Sikh Rahatnama and Bhai Kanhaiya were not Khalsa Sikhs.
The fear that the Sikhs will lose their identity if they are included in the Hindu society is unfounded. Without losing their characteristic features and individual identity, the Varkaris, the Ramadasis, the Swami Narayan Panthis have remained within the Hindu society. In the present controversy of the nature of ‘Sikh religion’, let us keep aside the current and past politics and in the Sikh tradition, seek the guidance from the Guru Granth Sahib.
(Dr. Arvind Godbole is author of Guru Nanak Guru Gobind Singh (Marathi) and Philosophy of Shri Guru Granth Sahib’ (English) and many articles on Sikh history and Sikh Philosophy.)